Supering Hives

I’ve noticed that a number of people coming to the blog site are looking on information about how to super for honey. That’s a topic that supports numerous philosophies, and they’re related to the flow patterns in your particular area. For us, we want supers on by the end of May and beginning of June. We usually put out space for 80-120 lbs on the first round of supering. Then adding additional supers becomes a matter of individual hive performance. Here are some images that show what we often see as we go around:

In this super, the bees are just coming up into the box to store. The combs on the left are getting “whited” with fresh comb as they poke the first droplets of honey into the combs. If the box below this super is in the same condition, we would just leave them to get filled and be satisfied with signs of activity.

In the image below, the bees are getting more serious about storing, but putting most of the honey on the left side of the super–they’re just deciding to work the right side too. Occasionally they like to fill one side of three supers rather than fill entire boxes. They will eventually work their way across the box if you stop adding supers until they cooperate :) Moving one of the storing combs to the empty side of the hive will also encourage them to work more of the box.

Below is a strong hive that is whiting the entire box at the same time. This type of hive can fill the boxes quickly and are the best candidates for drawing foundation when their honey boxes are getting more full.

Drawing foundation is always a bit risky in a honey flow–sometimes a hive will reject the wax-making process and swarm instead. Then you lose honey and bees. But, when you have a strong hive that is running low on space in a good honey flow, they will normally come around to drawing wax. The hive below is the type of hive that I would choose–lots of whiting on the combs, not much space in the honey supers, and not showing the brown/yellow staining suggesting they have been full for a week or two. Hives that have been full for some time are more likely to swarm if you try to force them onto foundation. Hopefully the hive below will just continue with their wax secretions on foundation instead of the older combs!

[That said, my absolute favorite way of drawing deep foundation is only possible in years with above average honey flows. I like to harvest the first honey supers from strong hives, and then place the deep foundation directly over the two-deep brood nest with no excluder. The queen doesn’t like laying in the new wax when there are two boxes of dark combs below, so you very rarely get brood in the new-drawn combs and can simply take it as a honey super.–There will be more brood in the new cells if the honey flow drops off.]

The super below is not quite totally full–there is a little space in the middle that could be drawn out further. But noting the abundance of honey and also the burr comb between the top bars shows that the bees would have readily started another super if it had been there. We probably lost some honey to the brood box as the bees ran low on space. In the middle of such a strong flow, I would prefer to give this hive two more boxes, which would give us 10-20 days before needing to come back. One box can fill in 4-7 days on a strong hive in a strong flow.

The key for us is to stay AHEAD of the bees. If we waited until 700 hives have their boxes full, it would take days to get around with more boxes–and maybe a couple of weeks if we have to extract boxes first before having more empties to go out. In the meanwhile, we would lose thousands of pounds of honey for lack of storing space. For example. Let’s say there is a great day when the hives all gain 2 lbs of honey, but the supers are all full. That means we lose 1400 pounds (2+ barrels) to the brood nest, the queen will have less space to lay her eggs (resulting in less populous hives three weeks out), and swarming impulse is raised. We want the hives working multiple boxes at the same time and to never get completely full. I’m becoming optimistic that we will cross the 100 lb average this year but some of the 2010 splits have some catching up to do.